25) Volcano Choir - Unmap
24) Port O'Brien - Threadbare
23) Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
22) Girls - Album
21) Le Loup - Family
20) The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
19) The Lonely Forest – We Sing the Body Electric
18) The Antlers – Hospice
17) Owen – New Leaves
16) K’naan – Troubadour
15) Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More
14) The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You
13) Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything to Nothing
12) mewithoutYou – It’s all crazy! It’s all false! It’s all a dream! It’s alright.
11) J. Tillman – Year in the Kingdom
10) Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer
Hard to believe this Wolf Parade side project is a side-project.
9)Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
It starts as indistinct noise, but out from the empty din emerges a definite melody and, at last, a catchy driving rhythm. These stubborn weirdoes have finally figured out what music is supposed to sound like, and they pretty much got it right.
8) P.O.S. – Never Better
It’s hip-hop, but it’s good. (Smirk.) The beats are innovative, not just solid. And the songs aren’t just literate; they’re about something. It’s a breath of life from a once-legit genre that can’t seem to see past itself anymore.
7) The Dodos – Time to Die
The Dodos offer you the most fun you’ll have dancing to a folk record this year. Think of “Time to Die” as the hypothetical soundtrack to Little Miss Sunshine’s hypothetical sequel.
6) Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
At last, the relentlessly intellectual Brooklyn band has divined exactly how catchy its songs should be. Veckatimest is generally subdued, but at times the instruments converge in a welcome crescendo. These swells are like rare conversational input from a smart, quiet friend: just as genuine, and just as much a treat.
5) David Bazan – Curse Your Branches
Bazan’s first foray into autobiographical storytelling is the opposite of uplifting. But musically it’s his best album to date, calling Bob Dylan and Radiohead to mind at once. And his lyrics, a born-again skeptic’s meditations on scripture and religious experience, are compelling even if the conclusions make you antsy.
4) Noah and the Whale – The First Days of Spring
If it were nothing else, this would be a great breakup album. Frontman Charlie Fink’s girlfriend, left him when she left the band. It’s a recipe for a sad album about the experience of feeling sad. But the marvel here is the vast range of emotion the album conveys. The band’s artistic advancement with its sophomore record makes me wonder if Charlie Fink did four years at Juilliard in the single year separating the albums’ release. Regardless, he did all the hard work, and all we have to do is listen.
3) Brand New – Daisy
Brand New’s newest effort may not rival “The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me,” but it certainly recalls everything that album did right. Complex, intense instrumentation [check]; brilliant, genuinely poetic lyrics [check]; synthesis of these elements basically unparalleled by any other band [check]. The decision to foreground the hardcore influences was definitely the right call too, and the metallic intensity of “Daisy” more than makes up for its weak, seemingly flippant title.
2) Passion Pit – Manners
I used to hate dance music. I thought MGMT was annoying. That was before I heard Passion Pit. “Moth’s Wings” was my gateway drug, but “Little Secrets” and “Let Your Love Grow Tall” are just as satisfying. I don’t see what the big deal is with “Sleepyhead” or “The Reeling,” but who cares? It’s musically complex and lyrically just inscrutable enough to be intriguing. Two thumbs in the air.
1) Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
This French quartet has perfected power-pop and monumented that perfection on its fourth album. “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” literally couldn’t be better than it is (in my something-other-than-humble opinion). “1901” and “Lisztomania” are undoubtedly the year’s catchiest songs, but “Rome” and “Girlfriend” emerge as contenders on further listens. “Countdown” is seriously cool, and “Love Like a Sunset” goes experimental till our attention is at the breaking point, and then assures us that it was just kidding, turning into 2009’s best song under a minute. Actually, all the songs are very good, and the album earns my best-of-the-year honors for the unabating joy it still gives me from start to finish.